Tankan, strawberries are taste of Okinawan winter

Tony Nakamoto

Tangerine trees are often cut to size that everyone can reach the fruit.

The picking season for Tankan, a citrus fruit grown especially in the northern regions of Okinawa, is in full swing. And so is the season on the only strawberry farm on the island. So what better way to spend a day than pack the family in the car, take a drive up north, pick a few bags of the sweet Tankan and then swing by Ginoza to indulge in strawberries on Okinawa’s best known strawberry fields.

If you get tired of picking the tangerines yourself, you can buy them at the farm for about half what you&d pay in a local supermarket.

If you have recently driven up north taking route 84 from Nago towards Churaumi Aquarium, you might notice trees on the hills bear a lot of yellow fruit. They’re Okinawan tangerines called “Tankan.” They’re relatively small, and their orange-colored skin looks a bit rough and hard to peel off. But once you try a taste of it, I believe you’ll become a big fan of its sour-and-sweet taste.

Tankan ripens from January to March on Okinawa. It’s cultivated in many places on the island but the most famous area is Izumi, Motobu Town on Route 84.

Some orchards in Izumi put a sign on the road welcoming people to enjoy tangerine picking. But for English speakers, it might be a bit challenging to communicate well with local farmers. In this case, you want go to “Mikan no Sato” information center. It’s located on the right side of the road heading to the aquarium. It has a tall sign in front so you can’t miss it.

Arriving there, say you want to go “Mikan-gari,” meaning tangerine picking. There are always some farmers waiting for customers to escort. All you have to do is just follow the farmer’s truck to his orchard. Most orchards are located within 5 to 10 minutes distance from the information center.

At the orchard, you pay admission. It’s 250 yen for an adult and a child of elementary school age or older. Once you enter the orchard, you can pick and eat fruit as much as you want. Trees are usually cut so that most fruit are within your reach.

Trees getting abundant sun light tend to bear vivid colored sweet tangerines so you’ll walk around the orchard area to find the best tree to bear good fruits. It’s really fun.

According to the information center, due to Typhoon No. 19 hit northern part of Okinawa last October, this year’s fruits are smaller than usual. But thanks to temperature gap between warm and cold days in autumn, they have ripened well and are sweet.

After you eat your fill at the orchard, it’s time to choose some as souvenirs for your family and friends or yourself. You pay ¥300 per kilogram, which is about a half of the retail price. The admission and take out price is all same throughout the Izumi area.

If you can’t pick as much fruit as you want, you can go back to the information center and buy some more. They sell Tankan at a reasonable price, and they also have other kinds of tangerines for sale.

Tangerine picking started Jan. 10 and continues through the end of February. The information center has an escort from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. For more information call at 0980-47-2889 (in Japanese).

After having your fill of Tankan, head to Ginoza across the island for some strawberries.

Ripe and waiting for picking.

What I’m talking about here is Okinawa’s relatively new winter activity, strawberry picking in Ginoza village. At the strawberry farm you have 40 minutes to pick and eat strawberries as much as you can stuff in your stomach. Of course you can get strawberries at any supermarket on Okinawa, but the strawberries you pick taste much sweeter! That’s what fruit picking is all about!

In Ginoza, the Ginoza Agricultural Successor Training Center and two farmers offer strawberry picking from January to early May. In the peak season of February to March, their greenhouses are packed with sweets-lovers of all ages from all over the island. Their common trait is their big smiles on their faces.

Ginoza started strawberry farming about 10 years ago. Technically, Okinawa is not a good place to cultivate strawberries. High temperature and humidity is prevalent all year around, and strong typhoons can cause severe damages to cultivation. Thanks to tireless efforts and step-by-step improvements by farmers and the village, they have been able to get stable harvests for last few of years, and now their strawberries are used in restaurants in resort hotels of the northern part of the island.

Strawberry picking is fun

Ginoza grows mainly two varieties of strawberries, Sachinoka and Kaorino. Sachinoka has a good balance of sweetness and sourness. Kaorino is a bit bigger than Sachinoka and the name comes from its sweet aroma.

The picking is as simple as eating. Entering the greenhouse, you choose and pick berries gently and just eat it as is. They’re clean so you don’t have to wash them. A big berry tastes good but check the backside of the berry, as it’s sometimes still white. Small but reddish one is of course delicious. You’ll be surprised how sweet they are when eaten fresh.

The three farms are all located close to each other. After getting off Okinawa Expressway at the exit No. 9 (Ginoza), make immediate left towards the ballpark. Approaching the ballpark, you can see signs on the road with strawberry pictures with arrows pointing to the farm greenhouse area. Picking time is 40 minutes and the admission for adult is ¥1,300. ¥900 for elementary students and ¥600 for children two to six years old. If you want to take strawberries with you, you can buy them for ¥400 per pack or by weight. In case there are not enough berries, they might not be for sale to take home. Advance reservation is required in Japanese.

The sign to Ginoza strawberry farms is easy to undestand.

Ishikawa Strawberry Farm (Wed, Sat, Sun) 090-6863-8099, Ginoza Strawberry Farms (starts from mid-Feb, call 090-9782-0407 for reservations), Ginoza Agricultural Successor Training Center (Mon to Thu. & Sat) 080-6495-1515. Their website is http://ginoza-ichigo.net